Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Pedagogy of Choice for Critical Thinking

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I had a quick aha moment the other day. I often advocate for giving students choices in content, assessments, activities and I am usually tackling this from an angle of inclusivity and engagement and maybe autonomy and empowerment, but it suddenly occurred to me that giving students choices also develops critical thinking. In the real world, there are some situations where you have no choice. But there are so many where there might be multiple pathways to reach the same goal, or where you might choose among worthiness/priority of various goals. Don’t people need opportunities to learn to make good choices? And isn’t the process of making a choice on that involves analysis and evaluation, possibly from several different angles in order to make the most appropriate choice in context? That’s a useful thing to develop in and of itself.

When I learned about the concept of hidden curriculum I remember how concerned I was about how every little thing we do in education, intentional or not, influences what eventually gets learned.

And so I am thinking about how to frame the concept of “pedagogy of choice” (I don’t know if this is the best term for it, but I mean a pedagogy or curriculum that has many opportunities for learners to make their own choices) as something that develops critical thinking and promotes rigor, as well as the also valuable aspects of inclusivity and engagement and empowerment.

Now I realize, fully, that making informed choices is a power issue. How much information do different students have to enable them to make good choices? And this is a problem of cultural capital and information inequity. For example, in my institution, students get to choose between courses to cover liberal arts requirements. Some have close friends who have taken courses and can give them suggestions. Some check out Rate AUC professor. Some do what the advisor tells them (which honestly is often not in their best interests). Some don’t understand the jargon in course titles.

So the other thing, I guess, to do when offering students choices, is to be aware of these issues and give students sufficient time and guidance through this messy process.

One of the things I do with students who develop these choose-your-own-adventure games is acknowledge that not all students will settle on their focus topic from week 1…and therefore this means I will occasionally extend deadlines for final submissions because one student will have settled way earlier than another, but it’s not because one was *lazier*, just took longer to find their way. I guess I’m trying to say that giving choices then rushing the decision-making process results in exacerbating some inequalities and privileging some over others (e.g. fast readers, people to whom info is more accessible, fast decision makers who are not necessarily more reflective). Perhaps over time learners can get better at analyzing and evaluating their options and doing it all faster. And perhaps this is something we build up to.

But yeah. Giving students choices can help develop their critical thinking. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of that before.

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